- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

From combined dispatches
TEHRAN Hundreds of thousands of Iranians turned out to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Islamic revolution yesterday in a rebuke of U.S. charges that Iran is part of an "axis of evil."
Iranians poured into Tehran's Freedom Square carrying anti-U.S. banners and burning effigies of Uncle Sam.
The rally united both Iran's reformists and hard-liners, with Iran's reformist President Mohammed Khatami telling the crowd the massive turnout constituted a reply to "U.S. insults and trumped-up charges" against Iran.
"This year, despite insults to the great Iranian nation and the trumped-up charges against it, the Iranian nation has commemorated the anniversary of its revolt in a greater scale than before," Mr. Khatami said.
President Bush included Iran as a member the "axis of evil" in his State of the Union speech Jan. 29. He said that Iran "aggressively pursues" weapons of mass destruction and "exports terror," and that "an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom."
"Death to America," shouted demonstrators, repeating the ritual chant of the revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah in 1979 and swept the militant Muslim clergy to power.
In the capital, Tehran, protesters held aloft an effigy of Mr. Bush with a sign round its neck reading "I made a mistake in threatening Iran" and set fire to an Uncle Sam puppet, drawing cheers from the crowd.
Groups of Islamic militants appeared, wrapped in white shrouds, symbolizing their willingness to become a martyr in a fight against Iran's archenemy.
Speculation is rife in Iran that the United States may soon strike Iranian targets, leading to higher attendance than in previous years at the annual rally.
CIA Director George Tenet told a Senate hearing last week that Iran may be able by itself to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon by late this decade.
But he went on to say this estimate could be cut by years if Iran is able to obtain materials from outside sources.
An unclassified CIA report released a week earlier said Iran "remains one of the most active countries seeking to acquire [weapons of mass destruction and advanced conventional weapons] technology from abroad."
Iran's leading hard-liner, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had called for huge rallies to serve as a "slap in the face of Iran's enemies." Major rallies were held in cities across Iran yesterday.
U.S. officials have also accused Iran of giving refuge to al Qaeda fighters fleeing neighboring Afghanistan and trying to destabilize the fragile peace there charges Iran denies.


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